Product Placement: Coming Soon to a Teacher Near You

Big Macs and Whoppers vying to become integrated plot devices in fiction novels?Cans of Dr. Pepper defining compelling character arcs in YA/tween non dual teachers, internet-aware fiction characters using the nutritional and manufacturing advice on corporate web sites to argue their choice of everything from fast food to underwear?

Pizza Hut Chicken Dunkers laid as the irresistible bait to ensnare fantasy creatures possessing a sense of taste so heightened they can spot a tasty and nutritious meal a mile away?

Wise old mythical sages having no need to resort to the handy calorie counters to know just how ‘So Good’ for you KFC Tower Burgers really are?

Sounds far-fetched, I know. Scary, even. Middle Earth with Golden Arches. Narnia with a drive-thru. Harry Potter collecting Horcruxes and two-for-one McDonald’s coupons. Scarier, in fact, than the scariest fiction. Art imitating reality imitating art imitating… well, you get the idea.

But will it happen? Modern, streetwise, identifiable characters fighting all manner of evil… whilst sipping a refreshing glass of Ocean Spray Orange Juice and eating a satisfying bowl of Cap’n Crunch that stays crunchy… even in milk. (How does it do that?)

A nightmarish scenario, I admit, for readers who prefer their cherished childhood memories unbranded and their literature unsullied by the literary equivalent of gaudy advertising hoardings.

Welcome to the brave new world of product placement in books.

Well, the brave new world as I see it in conjunction with a progressive publisher and savvy marketing consultant who think outside the box.

The more you think about it, what other future is there? For marketers and publishers it may yet boil down to a choice: embrace the sea-change or be left behind.

I know, I know. Product placement in books can be a touchy subject, though it is not without precedent.

In 2006 the tween chick-lit novel ‘Cathy’s Book: If Found Call’, was published with the spunky protagonist using various specific references to her favourite makeup (‘a killer coat of Clinique #11 Black Violet lipstick’) as part of her character development and, by association, the plot the heroine was driving.

Tellingly, the authors Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart both had backgrounds in marketing as well as being successful fantasy and sci-fi authors.

At the time, Marissa Roth writing for The New York Times noted that “product placement in books is still relatively rare. The use of even the subtlest of sales pitches, particularly in a book aimed at adolescents, could raise questions about the vulnerability of the readers. Many popular young adult novels, of course, already spread references to brands throughout their pages in series like ‘The Gossip Girl’ and ‘The A-List’, although there are no actual product placement deals.”

And the reason for the lack of advertising and branding deals? In reality, it was at the time largely a question of finding ways to successfully integrate brands into books rather than marketers fretting too much about compromising their ethical standards.

Back in 2006, conventional wisdom held that regular print ads, such as those traditionally found in magazines and newspapers wouldn’t work in books because the gestation cycle of a novel is too long. Marketers felt that books could never be nimble enough in marketing terms to move with a fast-changing market, especially in the tween/young adult demographic.

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